IBM Lotus Adds Handles to Information Overload
Published: January 23, 2007
by Dan Burger
IBM Lotus has every intention of using Britney Spears. Not as a spokesperson, for God sakes, but as an example. Spears dominates the social networking phenomenon like Big Blue wishes it could. Specifically, Lotus wants to apply social networking to business processes and team collaboration efforts. Not that Britney doesn't mean business, but IBM has very different ideas about putting social networking tools into the hands of business professionals in organizations around the world.
In the words of Michael Rhodin, general manager at IBM Lotus, the collaborative capabilities of social software--portals, e-mail, integrated document collaboration, and unified communications--are "enterprise-ready." That's not too surprising, since Rhodin and others at Lotus have been talking for a few years about collaboration and how it distinguishes IBM from Microsoft. Considering that it's time for the annual Lotusphere conference, IBM is rolling this snowball down a big hill and hoping it will grow. The new product introductions set for 2007, and their accompanying marketing avalanches, should keep the ball rolling. As Rhodin noted, Lotus is on a bit of roll with two consecutive years of double-digit revenue growth.
The Lotus product portfolio that headlines the upcoming year includes Connections, Quicker, Notes and Domino 8, Sametime, and WebSphere Portal Express. In a press conference Monday Rhodin described this lineup as "the largest expansion of our collaboration portfolio ever." It delivers, he says, better integration and connectivity, "making it easier for people to use these tools on the systems they want to use, as opposed to competitive alternatives that tell you exactly what you have to buy."
Ken Bisconte, vice president of IBM Lotus, provided a quick overview of the product portfolio. He's actually the one who brought up Britney Spears. I didn't think of that myself. "Social software today is about Britney," he said during the Lotusphere press conference. "When you apply it to business, it's business people using business technology for the purpose of business."
The Lotus portfolio differs from what most people associate with social networking because of its business integration. It has the capability to adapt the communication technologies that are conducive to social networking to a business setting. In other words, they have to integrate with enterprise directories, user authentication systems, storage management, and the business tools people use, such as Lotus Notes, multiple flavors of Microsoft Office, Lotus Sametime and the other pieces in the Lotus portfolio.
"One of the things we've done with partners of large ERP systems," Rhodin explained, "allows you to click in a live chat and pull data directly out of an ERP system and have a multi-way conversation with several people on different continents while looking at live business data and doing real work, not just talking about where to go to lunch."
A Brief Overview of the Lotus Products
The focal point for social software brought to business is Lotus Connections. It consists of five collaboration tools components--Activities, Communities, Dogear, Profiles and Blogs--designed to improve the accessibility of information. The most prominent of these is Activities, which integrates things such as e-mail, documents, chat transcripts, and Internet content, so each of those resources can be brought into the context of work activities.
With Lotus Notes version 8 and Lotus Connections, users will be able to access Activities on the side bar from their Lotus Notes inbox and drag and drop e-mail messages directly into an activity.
WebSphere Portal and Lotus Connections combine to display and share such features as Dogear bookmarks, recent team blogs entries, or the results of searches to locate an expert.
Expectations for bringing this to market are "later in Q2."
Quickr is designed to make the sharing of content faster and easier. To do that, Quickr connects users with content libraries, blogs, Wikis, and team workplaces using AJAX-enabled (think cross-platform) Web pages. Access to content is also available through portals and through multiple versions of Lotus Notes and Sametime. Domino database access, which provides replication and off-line support, is also available, as is access to Microsoft Office documents. When users navigate through Lotus Quickr, content will be presented in the familiar Windows Explorer or "My Documents" interface, so dragging and dropping files and entire folders can be easily accomplished as needed.
When connected to Lotus Notes, for instance, Quickr allows users to open and save e-mail attachments directly into a document library or team workspace. When composing e-mail messages with attachments, users will be prompted to move the attachment to a shared content library and send links instead of sending unnecessary copies of file attachments.
Another new feature allows a variety of RSS-enabled applications, including Firefox and FeedDemon, to be shared with team members.
General availability for Quicker Standard Edition is the second quarter of 2007. One of the future features, integration with FileNet will be later in the second half of the year.
Sametime 7.5.1 will ship early in the second quarter of 2007 (IBM has an April target date). The Eclipse-based instant messaging tool lets users navigate through content stored in Lotus Quickr libraries and share content. It now supports Apple Macintosh clients, Linux servers, multiple flavors of Microsoft Office, and a point-to-point video service.
Notes and Domino
Notes and Domino 8 news includes the availability of a public beta in February and final release around midyear. (It has been in managed beta since November 2006.) The new version has an expanded work environment that integrates with the latest unified communication and collaboration technology. It, as always, will be relied upon to bring together mail, calendaring, contact management, and applications.
WebSphere Portal Express
WebSphere Portal Express is IBM's designated avenue to composite applications and integration in a service oriented architecture. It continues to be what IBM likes to refer to as an "out of the box" Internet and intranet solution.
General availability is January 30.
Nothing Proprietary Up Their Sleeves
IBM executives enjoy the opportunity to boast about their use of open standards, open source, and open programming models. Rhodin says it has made it easy for business partners to plug right in. "We don't even have to be involved with partners to plug in," he said. "We find out about partners being plugged into our unified communications platform by word of mouth sometimes."
Rhodin emphasized the role of third-party vendors because they build the applications for specific industries and apply the Lotus collaborative tools to specific business processes. He is confident that IBM holds an advantage over Microsoft in this area.
"I don't think Microsoft has anything in terms of the credibility or capability in that regard. We have the technical services, the business solution services, and the platform is open," he said. "We now have a realtime collaboration platform with open programming models and tools that allow people to build business-class applications without having to pay tolls to make the thing work."
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